Award-winning worship band The City Harmonic releases their final album, Benediction Live: Worship from Churches Working Together in Canada, on June 23. The 14-track album was recorded April 29, 2017 in the town where it all started for the band, Hamilton, Ontario, and celebrates the songs and unifying worship movement that became a soundtrack for worshippers around the globe.
From a crucible of small churches of various denominations in Hamilton calling themselves TrueCity, the heart and line-up of The City Harmonic was fused through the sweat, joy and tears of urban mission. Grappling with the struggle of everyday people and writing songs for worship fueled by a "together for the good of the city" ethos, The City Harmonic returned to its roots to record its fourth and final album, Benediction Live, meant to be both a blessing and a sending, not an end.
We are honored to be able to talk to The City Harmonic's Elias Dummer for this exclusive interview.
Q: Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of your music. In our church, we often sing "A City on a Hill" and "The Solid Rock." So, it's with sadness to know that your new album "Benediction (Live)" will be the last City Harmonic record. Why? Why did you decide to close this chapter?
Truth be told - it was simply an issue of being true to what God's calling us to do. We're as close as ever as friends and it's not as though there's a creative dispute or anything. We came to the decision together that it was time to close this book in order to start new ones.
We recorded "Honestly" for this album, our last new song together, and the first verse captures our mentality somewhat well:
Could I let go of all that You've given
If it meant that it all would be Yours?
Could I sit at your feet, and forget about me
And remember what I'm here for?
Q: What are your plans now after the dissolve of The City Harmonic?
We've gone back to what drives us -- we've all taken up roles in our churches. Eric is planting a church in Hamilton, I've been involved in a UMC church plant here in Nashville for over a year now, and Aaron and Josh have both taken up leadership roles within their congregations in Hamilton as well.
Out of that local context again, I've started work on a new album of worship songs - and Aaron's working on an album as well. So we're not done making music (far from it), and we're certainly not done doing ministry!
Q: Over the course of the last few years, what were some of the highlights and challenges for you as part of The City Harmonic?
We've had an incredible run - we've played some venues we never imagined we'd play (like the ACC in Toronto, or EO Youth Day in the Netherlands) and we've met so many incredible people. One tour in particular, though, sticks out in my mind as being both remarkably rewarding spiritually and very challenging. In the Fall of 2015 we organized what we called "We Are" Events - these nights of worship paired with a pastor's roundtable in 18 cities across America.
The vision for this was to inspire movements similar to the movement that birthed and commissioned our band - a partnership of diverse Christian churches working together for the good of their cities.
It was a pretty intense undertaking. Trying to bring pastors together to catch a shared vision for their community was a lot of work (they were willing and enthusiastic -- but pastors are busy people!) and those afternoon roundtables were seriously so incredible. Still, in the midst of all that, in the end the tour struggled financially. At one point, Eric said something to the effect of "if this is the tour that ends us, it's worth it."
It didn't, but I think he captured the spirit of it. Sometimes in Christian music the pressure to focus on commercial gain or metrics can be overwhelming - for a season, we intentionally set it aside to see a vision through and we did it. I know some of those communities have been changed, not because we had a lunch meeting, but because those pastors went on to do incredible things with incredible people. When I'm 90, I hope it's those stories I'm telling. That we did something that truly mattered, and that there may be people out there who benefit from it who will never know the name of our band -- but they'll know Jesus.
Q: "Benediction (Live)" therefore must be a very precious record for all of you. Why did you decide to call it "Benediction"?
Sometimes we think of Benediction as a "goodbye" at church, but it's way more than that. 'Benediction' means 'Blessing'! It's a sending, not just a goodbye. We part ways from our congregations to go out and be the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world.
That's true for our band, and our prayer is that that is true for everyone who hears it - that they see in the entire span of the songs we've written prayers for the Church to sing that inspire us to go into our neighborhoods and love people well.
Q: This is also your first independent album. What happened with your deal with Integrity Music? Why did you decide to go the independent route?
We Are, our album which came out in 2015, was the last option with Integrity Music. They're great people and dear friends - but that album was a natural end to our time together. They have actually been incredibly helpful and gracious in helping us up get set up to do this live worship album with songs from all our records, and as we've been working with Tony Patoto and The Fuel Music in management for years (who are also awesome indie distributors), it became clear that going independently was right for us.
Q: "Honestly" is the buzz song out of the new record. What's the story behind this song?
"Honestly" is actually a song that's been cooking for some time. I wrote it with Carl Cartee and Anadara Arnold almost 13 years ago on my first writing trip to Nashville, before The City Harmonic, though we led it together in Canada for years before taking on the name as a band.
It's a song about being Honest before God - and if we're truly honest, we sometimes have a strange definition of success. I think of Psalm 51 -- you probably remember the section, "Create in me a clean heart, O God"... well it goes on to say, "a broken and contrite heart you, O God, will not despise."
The honest truth is that it's our brokenness, the sometimes painful recognition that we actually need Jesus -- I think that's the heartbeat of Christian worship. So, I hope that this song is one of those dangerous-but-essential prayers for people. That while we may struggle intellectually, or we may chase things, we'd be willing to set aside all for the love of Jesus.
Knowing this, I recently got together again with Carl and Anadara to add a bridge (something I'd wanted to do for years), and we took a nod from Come Thou Fount. With this bridge in hand, the band and I thought it would be the perfect way to capture the spirit of why, in part, we feel like it's a good time to move into new seasons of ministry.
I'm prone to wander
But where could I go that You aren't there?
So here's my heart, Lord
With all of its' doubts and fears and prayers
And the chorus:
Honestly, I need to be broken
Honestly, I need to fall down
Go ahead and shake my foundation
Cause Honestly I'm figuring out
That of all that I have all that I need is you
Q: Having not heard the album yet, I believe you have some new songs as well as live takes of your older songs on the album?
Yep! Benediction is a live worship album, focused on songs we intended for the Church. Throughout our time together we've always written two kinds of songs in a way - songs we'd sing at our churches and songs that we saw as prayers of sorts. This album is made up almost entirely of the first category and in addition our new song Honestly, includes songs like "Manifesto," "Holy (Wedding Day)," "Mountaintop" and "Yours."
Some of the songs, like "A City On A Hill" for example, have been reimagined and rearranged - and it was really cool to hear people respond so willingly to a new version of the song.
Q: Over the last few years with The City Harmonic, how has your faith in Christ grown?
I've seen and heard so many stories of how God has used the little things we have had the opportunity to do that it's been incredible, and every time it's like we feel that much smaller in our minds. On the other hand, the "music business" can be tough, and it can get weird when its gets mixed up with faith, trust me. I don't doubt that God has used it to shape and change me.
And I don't know if it's sane to say this in North America but at the end of the day, I'm willing to lose at music if it means winning at following Jesus - and I don't necessarily think the two are always the same thing. I don't know if that was really true of me ten years ago, and maybe I'll say the same thing in ten more years, but I'm going to continue to make sure it's Christ I'm chasing - wherever he leads.